According to the latest issue of Publisher’s Weekly, “bookstores are in the fight of their lives,” with print sales down 9.2% the week ending March 21st. But we can see a glimmer of hope in the kids’ market, with a 66% gain in the juvenile nonfiction category for that week. The bestsellers in the children’s market were holiday, festival, and religion books. Of course, Passover and Easter are upon us, so this can explain the sales uptick, but we must have confidence that if our community keeps promoting our books, not only will we stay afloat, but we will boost the sprits of our writing, illustrating, and reading community.
This week, we are bringing you a special edition of ProInsider: an article by SCBWI member Roxyanne Young on how to film a video presentation from home with optimal results.
DOING A VIDEO PRESENTATION FROM HOME? HERE’S HOW TO OPTIMIZE YOUR SET TO GET THE BEST RESULTS
by Roxyanne Young
Although the coronavirus crisis has gripped the planet, many of us are still hard at work promoting our books and staying connected with our readers. Authors like Nikki Grimes and Bruce Hale are doing online readings. Author-Illustrator Mo Willems is giving daily doodle instruction from his home studio. And from her home office, author Anne Marie Pace presented a live Facebook promotional video for the Virginia Children’s Book Festival. Authors who also teach, such as Cindy Jenson-Elliott and Rob Sanders, are giving remote class sessions from their homes. Yet, not everyone has a full production studio in their homes, so video quality varies widely. But, there are some simple steps you can take to make your video look more professional:
1. DECLUTTER YOUR BACKGROUND
Although you hope that your audience will focus on you during your presentation, their eyes will eventually wander to what is in your background: leaning books on shelves, knick-knacks tucked in between those books, and piles of papers waiting to be filed. So before you hit record, take some time to tidy up and remove items that might be distracting.
If you’re hanging a plain sheet or printed fabric behind you as a backdrop, iron or steam it first, and make sure you hang it straight. My favorite fabric backdrop is made from upholstery velvet. It’s heavy and doesn’t wrinkle, and if you get a dark color like black or plum, it is usually matte so you won’t have to deal with shiny hotspots.
How much of your background is visible will vary depending on the viewer’s device and which platform you’re using to record your video. If you have particular items that inform the viewer of your expertise, make sure they’re visible over your shoulders while you’re speaking. Place your latest, or favorite, book face out on a shelf or table that can be seen behind you. Do you have plushies of your characters? You can show these as well, especially if they are relevant to your talk or reading. Be careful about glare on glossy book covers and glass picture frames. You’ll be able to see if anything is too shiny when you do your test session (covered below) before you go live.
Also, remember to avoid moving objects behind you, such as ceiling fans.
2. PAY ATTENTION TO YOUR LIGHTING
Natural Light is Awesome
Author-illustrator Katie Davis shared a poem live on Facebook from her home office while sitting in front of a window with indirect light. If you live in the northern hemisphere, try to sit facing a large north-facing window or glass door. (Do the opposite if you are in the southern hemisphere.) Barring stormy dark skies, north-facing windows have great indirect light. Avoid sitting in front of windows with the sun shining directly in. Any too-bright light will cause you to squint and cast harsh shadows.
Author-Illustrator Katie Davis, sitting in front of a window with beautiful natural light, urges her young fans and fellow creatives to write poetry while sheltering at home.
Skylights also give great light. Check out Mo Willems’ Lunch Doodles series on YouTube, courtesy of The Kennedy Center, to see gorgeous light from skylights and large windows.
Daylight-Balanced Also Works
If you don’t have a big north-facing window, sliding glass door, or a skylight, use a daylight-balanced light and place it slightly above your head and to either side at about 45 degrees. My portrait photographer friends will nitpick this because there are technical distinctions beyond 45 degrees up and 45 degrees to the side, but essentially this light placement will mimick Rembrandt’s portrait light, giving the eyes, nose, cheeks, and lips clear definition.
You can use a household lamp for this. If you have a tall reading lamp, great. If you’re using a table lamp, raise it up to 45 degrees using boxes or other furniture. One light will work. Two will be better, depending on the brightness and distance from you.
Build a Softbox to Soften Shadows
If you’re setting up a daylight-balanced lamp, expose the bulb and hang a white sheet of paper in front of it to create what is called a softbox. This softbox will soften the shadows on your face. A large sheet of parchment paper, or a translucent shower curtain, will also work.
This is the setup for the final image below. My lamp isn’t quite 45 degrees up, but it’s close and combined with the light from the monitor, this setup would work for a live presentation.
Manage Your Light Sources
Turn off any bright lights behind you from windows or doors. Most cameras can’t adjust for backlighting unless you’ve also got really good fill lighting – lighting the front of the subject. Without good fill lighting, you’ll end up looking more like a silhouette.
I took a quick shot backlit against the window in my office. The image quality isn’t the greatest on a laptop camera to begin with, but in this lighting, the image comes out grainy.
I have a secondary monitor on my desk and this is the light from a big white Google window. It’s nice, but still a little too dim to capture motion if I were speaking live. I also shifted the camera away from the backlight window, but I left the window open to highlight the back of my hair. This is called a hair light and it gives some depth to the image.
And here is the same subject and background with the white light coming from the monitor and with a desk lamp added on the opposite side. I’ve hung a piece of white printer paper over the exposed bulb to create a softbox effect and soften the shadows. Now it’s bright enough to capture live motion.
Bounce Light onto Your Face
If you have deep-set eyes or bangs that shadow your eyes, you may need to use a reflector under your face to light your eyes. Place the reflector slightly in front of your chest and at an angle so that it catches the light and bounces it into the deeper shadows of your eyes — about where you’d hold a book while reading. A piece of white poster board works for this, as does one of those silver party cake trays you get from the party store. I’ve used the white side of a quilt when I needed to bounce light in an impromptu photo session when I didn’t have my full gear with me. Anything bright white or silver will work. Just make sure your reflector is not visible on your screen!
Skin Tone and Shiny Noses
Why is daylight-balanced light important? Because anything else, no matter what your skin tone is, will skew your skin tone toward yellow or blue, depending on the temperature of the bulb. Daylight-balanced, though, makes your skin color and eye color look more natural.
“Specular” is a fancy pro photographer word for “shiny.” A shiny nose or forehead is not the worst thing you can have, but there are ways to avoid this by using a softbox (see above) or with translucent face powder.
Even if you never wear makeup, I recommend you dust a little powder on your nose, cheeks, and forehead to avoid specular highlights. If you don’t have translucent face powder, corn starch will also work. Just use a large makeup brush to put it on, or barring that, a soft facial tissue.
Some people have dark circles under their eyes, or very reddish, ruddy complexions. (Thank you, my Scottish ancestors.) I’ve found redness control products (pale-green creams) at department store makeup counters and I’ve also purchased them online. I recommend putting these products on under your foundation or tinted face powder to even out redness and dark circles. It really does work wonders.
3. YOUR CAMERA PLACEMENT IS IMPORTANT
Pay attention to camera placement. No one wants to look up your nose. If you’re using your laptop camera, set your laptop on something about the height of a shoebox (shipping boxes fit this bill, or stacked books) so that the camera is at a natural eye height for you.
If your eyeglasses reflect your laptop screen, it will be difficult to clearly see your eyes. Plus, seeing a reflection of the other windows you have open on your computer is not only disconcerting, but could also be a privacy issue. If you’re making a public video, protect yourself from random people taking screen captures of whatever personal data is reflected in your glasses. (Okay, maybe I’ve seen too many crime dramas with super tech geniuses doing devious things in dark basements, but still, be careful.)
Bruce Hale has lots of experience speaking in front of large audiences, but he’s adapting his skills to the intimate setting of his home office to stay in touch with his young fans during the coronavirus crisis. Note the eye-height level of the camera, and if you watch the video, you’ll notice that Bruce never reads from the book. He has the text memorized and he only uses the book to show the illustrations by Scott Breen.
4. DO A TECH REHEARSAL
Run a live test with a friend to work out any technical issues. Make sure you know how to adjust your microphone and how to start and stop recording. If you’re going live with an outside group or organization, make sure your system syncs with theirs. This may mean doing a test run with that group, whether it be via Skype, Hangouts, or Zoom. It’s also important to know how to use the mute button.
Turn OFF Notifications on Your Laptop and Phone
Before you record, or go live, turn off notifications on your laptop and set your phone to airplane mode. Your friends and family will be excited to see you live, but you don’t want their “pings” to interrupt your presentation!
5. DO A DRESS REHEARSAL
That old joke really fits here: A tourist asks ,“How do you get to Carnegie Hall?” And you say, “Practice, practice, practice.” This is the most important advice of all: Do a practice video before you go live or publish to YouTube, Twitter, Instagram, Vimeo, or Facebook. Once your video is out there, it’s really hard to retrieve it to fix things. Have your shareables, like your poetry examples or the book you want to read, at hand and ready to go.
Focus on the Lens
When you’re not used to being on camera, seeing yourself in a selfie video can be distracting, so while you’re recording yourself with your phone or iPad, you may be looking at yourself on the screen and not looking into the camera lens, which is over to the side or at top of your device, depending on whether you’re recording in portrait or landscape mode.
The position of your camera lens also depends upon which platform you are publishing with. Instagram prefers vertical, or portrait, format, while Facebook, YouTube, LinkedIn, and Vimeo want horizontal, or landscape format. Whichever format you’re using, though, look into the lens, friends. Otherwise, to your viewer, it’s like having a conversation with someone who’s not paying attention to them.
If you have trouble looking at the lens, you may want to cover your device screen with a sheet of black art paper or fabric (so you don’t get a light square reflection in your eyes or glasses from white paper) and draw an arrow in light pencil on it pointing to the lens to remind yourself to look at the lens. Did I mention looking at the lens?
Polish Your Look
Do your hair, makeup, put on your on-camera outfit, and take a hard, critical look. Avoid busy patterns and white tops – you want the focus to be on your face, not on what you’re wearing. You want your face to be the brightest thing in the image. Solid colors are better and I’ve never met anyone who didn’t look good in dark jewel tones. Your viewer will appreciate the effort, and they don’t have to know all the hard work you put into looking camera-ready!
Nikki’s outfit and makeup are on point and if you watch her video, you’ll see she has her shareables ready — look at those examples for the style of poetry she’s teaching. Nice. Her lighting works, too. Next step, better camera placement.
Practice What You Want to Say
Have your notes handy but try not to read from them – looking down to read from paper on your desk breaks the connection between you and the viewer. If you’re reading a picture book, look from the book to the viewer, just like you would if you were reading to a group in person.
The key element in any presentation, whether online or in person, is to be engaging and confident in your material. The new video platforms have opened up enormous opportunities to connect with fellow creatives, business colleagues, readers, and fans. I hope you can make the most of this opportunity, and I hope you find your light. Good luck with your presentation!
Resources to check out for yourself:
Storytime with Bruce Hale on YouTube: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=-4mvKSNM8bY
Find Anne Marie Pace’s video linked from her Facebook page: https://www.facebook.com/AnneMariePace
And Katie Davis is on Facebook, too.
Nikki Grimes’ poetry video is linked from her Facebook page, too, and on her YouTube channel – yes, she’s teaching poetry on YouTube!
Mo Willems’ Lunch Doodles is on YouTube as well, through The Kennedy Center channel.
SCBWI member Roxyanne Young is a photographer and author currently living in Palm Coast, Florida. You can learn more about Roxyanne here: www.roxyanneyoung.com.
All screen captures are used with permission of the featured author.